Questions The Finance Minister PDF Print E-mail

I thank the Minister for his statement. In trying to develop an alternative to the Budget exchange scheme, will you give us any detail of the discussions that you have had with Her Majesty's Treasury?

Sammy Wilson (DUP)

So far, the discussions with Her Majesty's Treasury — we have been doing it on a joint basis as the three Administrations — have been to the effect that the stock that has gone back should not have gone back. As I said, it will be an uphill struggle to get any movement on that. The first position, of course, was, “Ok. You have taken the stock off us. You have dealt with the large surpluses that you were concerned about being carried forward, so at least now reintroduce the scheme”. That has not found favour with the Treasury.

I am meeting the first secretary of the Treasury at the end of June, because we are making a Northern Ireland-tailored proposal. The Scottish and Welsh would still prefer that we just reverted to the old scheme. The second step is that we have a scheme that is capped. The attraction of that for the Treasury is that it will not become an open-ended commitment with huge surpluses. Do not forget that some of the huge surpluses were a result of underspends that happened before this Assembly was set up. Direct rule Ministers did not run budgets very well, hence the big surpluses that accumulated. I do not believe that you would get that level of surplus even if you introduced the same scheme again. Nevertheless, to try to anticipate some of the Treasury’s objections, we have suggested that they be capped at fairly modest amounts. From experience and from looking at what happened in the February monitoring round last year, for example, if we had that degree of flexibility, we could probably manage any surprise underspends by Departments in the last couple of months of the year.

 

 
Securing The Future Of The North West 200 PDF Print E-mail

During Oral Questions,  David Hilditch asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what plans she has to help further develop the North West 200 as a premier international event.  

Caral Ni' Chuilin (Sinn Féin)

With your permission, I will group questions 2 and 5. Again with your permission, before answering, I put on record — I am sure that the entire Assembly will join me — my sincere condolences to the family and friends of the three racers who died in the past week in incidents at the TT races in the Isle of Man. Sidecar racer Bill Currie and his passenger Kevin Morgan, both from England, were killed during last Tuesday’s practice session, and our own Derek Brien, from Bellewstown, County Meath, was killed yesterday during the Supersport race.

 

I would only consider supporting an application to the Department for Regional Development for additional road closure hours for any motorcycle road race once I was satisfied that ongoing public concerns about safety standards in the sport generally had been fully and satisfactorily addressed. I would also wish to be assured that an increase in hours would be acceptable to all relevant sporting interests and would contribute to the delivery of my targets for sport as set out in my sports strategy, Sport Matters.

 

David Hilditch

Will the Minister tell us, in light of the various problems that were suffered this year, what additional resources have been identified in her Department to assist the organisers for next year? 

Caral Ni' Chuilin (Sinn Féin)

I am undertaking an exercise in the Department to see whether there are additional resources for many projects across my portfolio. At the minute, I cannot confirm what, if any, additional resources are available, but, once I have received that information, I will take on board and answer the Member’s question.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
HIlditch Pushes For A2 Upgrade PDF Print E-mail

I thank Mr Ross for tabling the topic and securing the Adjournment debate. I also welcome the Minister along to provide his input. Unfortunately, the Adjournment deabte does not reflect some new topic or subject but raises once again the very frustrating and, for some, very controversial issue of the A2. That is the Seapark to Silverstream section on the Shore Road between Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey.

Notwithstanding the issue of King Billy, which formed part of the debate last year, it is frustrating for the many users who have to endure the difficult commute twice a day, as they make their way to work and back, and for visitors to the area, who really cannot believe that their journey has been brought to a standstill, having already negotiated the city and all that that brings.

It is frustrating, too, for the local politicians who have raised the matter regularly through debates, meetings, questions, Committee meetings and delegations here in Stormont since devolution, or indeed for the many delegations that have been to see devolved and direct rule Ministers over the past 40 to 50 years.

The A2 has now entered the realms of controversy. There have been a number of false dawns in recent years, and it sometimes seems that, after making a number of forward steps, we are suddenly placed in reverse mode, which may depend on a new Minister's outlook or on new circumstances beyond our control. The A2 is also controversial because we have spent £16 million to date on planning costs, compensation, public inquiries, geotechnical investigations and archaeological digs, all to be in a state of readiness to go. We have uprooted a whole community in preparation to proceed, with many homes now vacated and boarded up on that particular section of the A2.

How must former residents feel as they pass their previous homes? Indeed, how does it look to the many visitors who are guided on to the Causeway coastal route from the M2? What impression does it create as visitors begin their journey on what is being promoted as the world-famous coastal route only to be met with the blight of dereliction caused by a government Department bringing a halt to the process?

The former Sinn Féin Minister may have had a different political agenda and set of priorities, though he assured us that he would return to the A2 at some stage. Today, because of the state of readiness of the project and the difficulties facing other schemes, that stage must now be reached. Once again, we have come through an election. From canvassing at doorsteps and meetings, I know that the one issue that unites all of us in East Antrim is the A2. Other topics were raised, but the A2 is the one that stands out above all others. Given that records indicate that there are in the region of 30,000 vehicular movements in the two-way traffic flow on the road daily, that does not come as much of a surprise.

There are other areas of infrastructure that affect people’s lives and should impact on joined-up government as well as decision-making. When local people are being told that they must use hospitals outside the area, that Whiteabbey police station is the nearest full-time police station, that ambulance journey times are being reviewed and when it is rumoured that third-level education is to be relocated to Belfast, the A2 enters the overall equation. Central government cannot have their cake and eat it. When those services are relocated to other areas, the infrastructure — in this case, roads — must be improved to help with the impact that those decisions have on people’s lives. Hopefully, on this occasion, DRD can step up to the mark.

The A2 in its current state affects people from the local communities who go to work in the greater Belfast area and also has an impact on local businesses, as was outlined by Mr Dickson. The opportunity to promote investment in the area is also hampered by this major infrastructure issue. It is right up there when decisions are taken on future investment. We recently lost a major freight company from the area, and, although the A2 was not the primary reason, it was a continual problem for that company and made its decision to move outside East Antrim much easier.

Minister, as we enter the new mandate, let us give the people of East Antrim some hope. In previous mandates, that community has been very tolerant on the issue. However, people have had their hopes built up and let down again. Although there appear to be difficulties with other previously prioritised schemes in Northern Ireland, let us also be mindful of the construction industry, which sees a scheme prepared and ready to go. This should be a quick win for everyone. Again, I thank the Member for the opportunity of the Adjournment dabate, and I look forward to the Minister's response, having noted answers to tabled questions already.

 
Questions the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure PDF Print E-mail

Hilditch asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure for his assessment of the difficulties facing Irish League soccer clubs due to reduced attendances brought about by health and safety regulations.

 

Nelson McCausland (DUP)

I understand the concerns that have been raised with me by some Irish League football clubs about the impact that the new health and safety regulations appear to be having on attendances at certain Irish League football club games. In response to those concerns, I have asked my officials, in conjunction with Sport Northern Ireland, to look at those concerns in order to see how they might be addressed in the absence, at the moment, of further funding opportunities. I will, of course, wish to be satisfied that any proposed changes will continue to make reasonable provision for the safety of spectators. In the meantime, I am continuing to look at ways of identifying where and how further support to clubs may be provided that would assist them in complying with the regulations.

 

 

David Hilditch (DUP)

I thank the Minister for his answer and declare an interest as a stadium operator. Does he agree that the new health and safety regulations have contributed significantly to reduced attendances at Irish League games and other sports in Northern Ireland?

 

Nelson McCausland (DUP)

 I have listened to the concerns of the IFA and the Premier League football clubs and the GAA  The fact is that, since the councils started to issue safety certificates, concerns have been expressed by clubs across the different sports. It is also clear that issues remain to be resolved — safety first, certainly. However, we need to bear in mind that there may be some sort of managed risk. I recognise that the regulations have created difficulties at some games, and that is why I have asked my officials to look into the matter in conjunction with Sport NI. It was put to me by one individual that it looks as though we may have a Rolls- Royce model in Northern Ireland when, in fact, a Mondeo would be adequate and fit for purpose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Questioning the Education Minister PDF Print E-mail

 During Oral Question Time in the Assembly Hilditch Questions Education Minister

I welcome the statement to update the House and the steps that have been put in place. Will the Minister confirm that the external investigation centred solely on the irregular expenditure of the £11·5 million project in Magherafelt, or were any other historical projects considered during the investigation?

 

Caitriona Ruane answered "The investigation was in relation to Magherafelt High School. Obviously, we will now be looking at various contracts in the boards".

 

 

 
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